The Inner, Imaginal ‘Postmodern Ecological Landscape’

FACED WITH AN ECOLOGICAL CRISIS, the landscape which now confronts us is postmodern and ecological in focus. The Technological/Materialist Landscape is now frequently being questioned and even rejected for what could be termed a new, inner and imaginal Postmodern Ecological Landscape.

This Postmodern Ecological Landscape is concurrent with a revision in epistemology. As has been shown, the modernist domination, objectification and externalisation of nature, built into concepts of science and modernist epistemology, has been increasingly criticised.[i]

With the Postmodern Ecological Landscape we seem to have returned to the primal animist sacred Nature/Earth Landscape imagination and vision. The difference is that perhaps we are more self-consciously and deliberately aware of the imagination in creating landscapes.

It could be argued that it is the inner archetypal landscapes of the psyche, from which the imagination springs, that creates the outer landscapes of our being in the world. Indeed, as shall be shown in the final chapter, this is what was argued by Henry Corbin in his translations and interpretations of the writings of the ancient Persian pre-Islamic mystics and the Shi’ite, Mazdean and Sufi mystics in respect to their ‘visionary geography’.

If this inner landscape of the psyche – or as cultural historian William Irwin Thompson terms it, “imaginary landscape of the “middle way of the mind”, in which “we humans come to know our world”[ii] – is accepted, then we would seem to have arrived at, or spiraled into, old understandings, feelings and rememberings of our spiritual embeddedness in the natural world.

American environmentalist and academic Lynn Ross-Bryant argues that Barry Lopez is one of a number of contemporary writers of ecological literature who offers a postmodern and holistic view of humans, nature and spirit. Most of these writers share a sense that “in allowing the mysterious otherness of nature to present itself, the ultimate dimension of life, the sacred, is revealed”.[iii]

For Lopez, imagination is the key to the relations and interactions between the natural world and human beings. These relations are mediated by the imagination and creations of the imagination. Thus Lopez asks: “How do people imagine the landscapes they find themselves in? How does the land shape the imaginations of the people who dwell in it? How does desire itself, the desire to comprehend, shape itself, the desire to comprehend, shape knowledge?”[iv]

Lopez argues that we must approach the land with an “uncalculating mind” and with an attitude of regard, because whatever evaluation we finally make will be inadequate: “To intend from the beginning to preserve some of the mystery within it as a kind of wisdom to be experienced, not questioned. And to be alert for its openings, for that moment when something sacred reveals itself within the mundane, and you know that the land knows you are there”.[v]

Imagination, mystery, wisdom, the sacred within the mundane and the reciprocity of I-Thou relation are all characteristics of the Postmodern Ecological Landscape. Lopez speaks of a relationship with the arctic landscape which is mystical, emotional, lyrical and reverent:

“I came to believe that people’s desires and aspirations were as much a part of the land as the wind, solitary animals, and the bright fields of stone and tundra. And, too, that the land itself existed quite apart from these.”[vi]

This is a very different imagination and ‘focus of perception’ from the secular I-It world of the modernist Technological/Materialist Landscape, in which the sacred has been critically and rationally excised from the landscape.

Oil workers in the arctic told Lopez “the Arctic was really a great wasteland ‘with a few stupid birds’, too vast to be hurt. Whatever strong men could accomplish against the elements in such a place, they insisted was inherently right.” A drilling supervisor said “Technology is inevitable. People just got to get that through their heads”.[vii]

Lopez like other recent writers of ecological literature, who could be described as postmodernist, share not only an extensive knowledge of the land but also an unabashed I-Thou relation with the Nature/Earth Landscape. They are not restricted by the I-It objectivist epistemology of science, technology and materialism. Rather they are willing and unafraid to use poetic language and acknowledge imagination and metaphor as a means of exploring and describing other ways of knowing. There is an emphasis on wholeness and relationship with the natural world. In Lynn Ross-Bryant’s words:

“Their intent is to know humans better by knowing them as part of the natural order, and, insofar as possible, through metaphor and imagination, to know the land better as well. Through this use of the imagination they come to an awareness of the whole process of which humans are an interrelated part which leads them to a double emphasis, first on human responsibility to the whole and all its parts and second on human spirituality as it is rooted in this experience of the whole.”[viii]

Unlike The Judaic-Christian Anthropocentric Landscape where the sacred is transcendent, and the Technological/Materialist Landscape where the sacred is leached from the landscape and men would objectify and manipulate the land to their own materialist ‘progressive’ ends, there is a revisioning in landscape perception by these environmentalist writers towards a Postmodern Ecological Landscape.

These writers “share a love for and extensive knowledge of the land emphasizing nature as nature rather than nature as a springboard to transcendent reflections on humans”.[ix] Ross-Bryant argues that for Lopez there is an interaction between humans and nature:

“imagination and desire encounter the landscape and the living things in it: knowledge is gained – not simply of one’s imagination, nor purely of the land, but of the mysterious process in which land and humans – all living things – are involved.”[x]

This is in essence a description of the mystical I-Thou relation.

Lopez wants to change the way we imagine the world. He shows the different ways in which Eskimos, explorers, painters and oil workers have imagined the arctic landscape and the consequences of their imagination. Ross-Bryant says of Lopez’s spirituality and what he identifies as sacred is an encounter with wholeness and mystery in the encounter with the earth:

“The experience of wholeness and mystery that he everywhere encounters in the things and people of the earth is the heart of his spirituality and his connection with what he identifies as the sacred.”[xi]

THE IMAGINATION HAS A ROLE IN EVOLUTION and one might add a spiritual revolution. Lopez states “The continuous work of the imagination…(is)…to bring what is actual together with what is dreamed is an expression of human evolution”.[xii]

It could also be argued that it is the continuous work of the imagination to bring what is actual together with what is dreamed of, that is reflected at the collective level in historical changes in landscape ‘focus of perception’. In this regard, it is worth noting Bishop’s argument that:

“Postmodernism marks not so much the end of history, as the end of history as concrete reality … Indeed, it marks the beginning of history (the past memory) as a metaphorical reality. By identifying the possible plurality of histories, HISTORY can be deliteralised. Like all the old literal power-words – Progress, Duty, Heritage, God – ‘History’ now becomes an imagistic truth.”[xiii]

For cultural historian William Thompson the orthodox religion of our era is “scientific materialism,”[xiv] but at the same time “Gaia [the Earth] is a new landscape” and the new mentality is a “planetary culture” or “postmodernism”.[xv] While he uses different terms, Thompson’s arguments accord with the perspective of the postmodern ecological landscape.

Thompson critiques modernism and argues for the return of the imagination as a mode of participatory perception – a way of being in the world and knowing.

“[T]he value of the imagination returns to challenge the reductionist mentality of modernism that ruled during the period of the mechanization of the world picture.”[xvi]

Thompson points out that in the straightforward linear world that Whitehead called “scientific materialism”, “it is precisely simile and metaphor that the materialist is trying to eliminate in reductionism” and that:

“this naïve philosophy, cultural constructs like “space” and “objects” are taken to be independent of the mind that frames them through its own threshold of possible perceptions, and by a strange inversion that amounts to a perversion, “mind” and “culture” are reduced to accidental collisions of these imaginary “real” objects in “real” space.”[xvii]

We are at one of “those exciting times when the creative imagination of an entire civilization is undergoing a transformation of its basic mentality”.[xviii] The dynamic mentality of modernism, the mentality of Galileo, Newton and Descartes with its linear equations is moving into a postmodernist science of which Chaos Dynamics is one important expression.[xix]

The Gaia hypothesis has stimulated a new way of knowing the planet and it is “as large and imaginatively provocative for our era as Darwinian evolution was for our great-grand parents time”.[xx] It gives “a new way of appreciating how the part participates in the whole” .[xxi]

Again there is great emphasis on the imagination. Thompson maintains that the imagistic mode that we call the Imagination is an ancient faculty which seems to involve a prelinguistic form of mind in which “thought is developed through correspondences, homologies, and participations of identity”.[xxii]

The imagination “is like a transformer” and metaphors are by their very nature transformers.[xxiii] Thompson argues that it is the “metaphorical process through which the Imagination takes in knowledge and steps it down into the conventional imagery of the sensory world with which we are all familiar… the Imagination is an intermediate realm, the realm of the artist, scientist, or prophet who renders the Intelligible into the Sensible”.[xxiv] The fundamentalist is not able to follow the symbolic utterance and takes image literally.[xxv] Thompson concludes that:

“Between the heights of the macrocosm of the Gaian atmosphere and the elemental depths of the microcosm of the bacterial earth lies the middle way of the Mind and it is in this imaginary landscape of the middle way, whether we call it the Madhyamika of Buddhism or the Christ of Steiner or the Da’at of the Kabbalah, that we humans take our life and come to know our world as the dark horizon that illuminates our hidden center.”[xxvi]

In Thompson’s view, landscape is inextricably tied to the interior mind and the imagination; and this is a postmodern view of landscape.

LANDSCAPES ARE BOTH IMAGINAL AND VISIONARY. In this chapter it has been shown that landscapes are sourced in the personal and collective imagination of the psyche. That our landscapes derive from personal and collective imagination has long been recognized by geographers wrestling with the concept of landscape. The prime role of the imagination in creating landscape is inherent in postmodern geography. It is however in the consideration of spiritual landscapes that the role of the imagination becomes most apparent.

At the collective level, particularly in the West, there have been discernable historical changes in spiritual imaginal-visionary landscapes: the primal sacred Nature/Earth Landscape; the Judeao-Christian revelatory Anthropocentric Landscape; the modernist ‘secular’ Technological/Materialist Landscape; and the imaginal Postmodern Ecological Landscape which allows for an Inner Landscape from which our outer landscapes are a manifestation and materialization.

With the Postmodern Ecological Landscape we seem to have created a full circle return to the animist, sacred, Nature/Earth Landscape imagination and vision. The difference is that we are more consciously and deliberately aware of the imagination in creating landscape.

Paradoxically, it would seem that spiritual and imaginal-visionary landscapes have simultaneously undergone historical change and are timeless. There is a timelessness or historical transcendence in our understanding of and our potentiality to participate in different spiritual, imaginal-visionary landscapes, which could be called archetypal. This archetypal aspect of landscape, which is historically transcendent and centred in the individual’s psyche, is the subject for the next chapter.

[i] Cindy Katz and Andrew Kirby, ‘In the Nature of Things: The Environment and Everyday Life’, in: Transactions – Institute of British Geographers, v.16, no.3 (1991), 259-271.

[ii] William Irwin Thompson, Imaginary Landscape: Making Worlds of Myth and Science (New York: Saint Martin’s Press, 1989),169.

[iii] Lynn Ross-Bryant, ‘Of Nature and Texts: Nature and Religion in American Ecological Literature’, Anglican Theological Review, v.73, no.1 (1991), 38.

[iv] Lopez, Arctic Dreams, xxvii.

[v] Ibid, 228.

[vi] Ibid, xxii.

[vii] Ibid, 398-399.

[viii] Lynn Ross-Bryant, ‘Of Nature and Texts: Nature and Religion in American Ecological Literature’, 39.

[ix] Ibid, 39.

[x] Ibid, 41.

[xi] Ibid, 49.

[xii] Lopez(1998) Arctic Dreams, 414.

[xiii] P. Bishop, ‘Rhetoric, Memory, and Power: Depth Psychology and Postmodern Geography’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, v.10, no.1 (1992), 17.

[xiv] William Irwin Thompson, Imaginary Landscape: Making Worlds of Myth and Science, 52.

[xv] Ibid, 130; see also 123.

[xvi] Ibid, 131.

[xvii] Ibid, 50-51.

[xviii] Ibid, xviii.

[xix] Ibid, xix.

[xx] Ibid, 130.

[xxi] Ibid, 84.

[xxii] Ibid, 80.

[xxiii] Ibid, 83.

[xxiv] Ibid, 84.

[xxv] Ibid, 83.

[xxvi] Ibid, 169.

The Modernist, Secular ‘Technological/Materialist Landscape’

THE SACRED IS ALMOST completely leached from the Nature/Earth Landscape and replaced by a sceptical secularism. This is the imaginative construct and ‘focus of perception’ of the scientific, realist and objectivist mind. In the new modernist, ‘secular’ Technological/Materialist Landscape, it could be argued that ‘religious’ enthusiasm is now for the idea of man and man-made progress in scientific discoveries and technological and materialist creations – as opposed to an omnipotent, transcendent God Father revealed through the Bible (His ‘Holy Word’) and in His holy places: temples, cities and churches.

The Nature/Earth Landscape where all natural phenomena are intrinsically sacred has been left far behind and is no longer regarded as a threat. It is derogated as ‘primitive’ or ‘romantic sentimentality’ or ‘new age nonsense’ by the positivist sceptic and materialist alike.

IN THE EARLY 1960s, Erich Isaac described this situation in geography of religion, where in a modern, secular culture, religion’s impact on landscape is minimal. He argued that geography of religion had become in practice “an essentially ethnological and historical study… religion as a great basic power in transforming the landscape has virtually ceased to operate”.[i]

Isaac drew a distinction between ‘religion’ and the ‘religious impulse’, which could be imputed to ‘secular ideologies’. He argued that humanity has become the new object of worship and man’s secular ideologies have important parallels to religion:

“It is not accurate to say that the religious impulse as a transforming power in the landscape has virtually disappeared in the 20th Century. What has actually happened is that this impulse has been translated into another form. … This … has made it possible for secular ideologies to develop, bearing certain important parallels to religion. The important ideologies of the 19th and 20th centuries postulate a world order which must be brought into being.”[ii]

One can think of a number of ideologies that would fit Isaac’s description of the religious impulse – in particular Marxism and Capitalism, both of which are based on salvation through material progress, although Marxism in theory is more concerned with social equality and justice. It is arguable that the underlying ideology of the twentieth century is that of human progress as salvation, here on earth, based on a technological/materialism. Indeed, Isaac concluded that for those studying the religious motive in cultural landscape the study of the role of ideology in landscape transformation is essential:

“Problematic though it be, the study of transformations of the landscape made upon ideological principles constitutes the major material for one who would study the religious motive at work in the cultural landscape of the present day.”[iii]

Geographer Yi-Fu Tuan, 1978, also noted the decline of the sacred and transcendental and questioned whether in fact there is now a secular church – a church which “is increasingly a social and service center”. In contrast, the medieval church “however much it catered to secular activities, was primarily sacred space: it radiated power”. [iv] Wistfully he concluded that contemporary life has lost its sense of the sacred, whether it be in the forests and streams or the sacred space of the church:

“Today the gods no longer dwell in forests and streams. If we abuse nature we shall pay for our wantonness in the long run and ecologists can tell us just how this will happen with the help of systems analysis and computers. But such rational and longwinded argument cannot chill our spine as can the belief that if we polluted a sacred spring our limbs would at once wither. …our pretense to scientific understanding and power has also corroded our feeling for profound mysteries. The world seems transparent. Contemporary space, however colorful and varied, lacks polarized tension as between the numinous and the quotidian. Contemporary life, however pleasant and exciting, moves on one plane – the plane encompassed by rational and humanist vision. Ecstasy and dread, the heights and the depths, the awesome and the transcendent rarely intrude on our lives and on our landscapes except under the influence of chemical stimulus… A sense of holiness and of worldly splendor has dimmed in modern times, and some people feel the loss.”[v]

Belden Lane also expresses a sense of the loss of the sacred and the mysterious for modern humanity: “As much as we might be tempted, amid the spiritual poverty of our contemporary life, to reach back to a renewed sense of paleolithic wonder, it is no longer possible or perhaps even desirable. The oracle is dumb. All shrines are defunct”.[vi] His description of modern life exemplifies the loss of and the longing for both the Nature/Earth Landscape and the revelatory Anthropocentric Landscape of patriarchal monotheism:

“The rootless character of American life, the Neo-Platonic impulse within the history of western spirituality, radical monotheism’s stubborn resistance to circumscribing the holy – all these would seem to minimise the significance of the phenomena [sacred space] being considered here. They are joined, finally, by the extraordinary impact of modern, critical thought in desacrilizing the world of nature, driving all mystery from it.”[vii]

He argues that, since Descartes and the Enlightenment:

“we no longer attribute numinous power to the landscape. The world is not for us the clear window of access to God that it might once have been… Yet human beings have never more longed for an awareness of God’s presence than today. Seldom have they been so divorced from a sense of place and the experience of meaningful dwelling that it can provide. Modern men and women, no less than their forebears, still hunger for the power of myth and place.”[viii]

Perhaps anticipating the imaginal Postmodern Ecological Landscape, Lane concludes:

“If there is hope for a rediscovery of the spirit, it will not be found in looking back to an innocence once lost, a simplistic return to the paradise of Eden. It will demand a reaching through and beyond the harshest criticisms leveled by the whole of western spiritual tradition. It will require a metanoia, a turning away from all efforts to manage the mystery of God. Only then may it be possible to encounter, by grace, a second naivete – a renewed sense of wonder glimpsed within the myriad landscapes of the holy.”[ix]

Lane places emphasis on the imagination, the experience of meeting and the mystery of grace and wonder which reveals the spiritual multiplicity of landscapes. This points to a description of the Postmodern Ecological Landscape to which we now turn.

[i] Erich Isaac ‘Religion, Landscape and Space’, Landscape, v.9, no.2, Winter (1959-60),18.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Yi-Fu Tuan, ‘Sacred Space: Explorations of an Idea’ in: Butzer, K. (ed.), Dimensions of Human Geography, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 94.

[v] Ibid, 98-99.

[vi] Lane(1988) Landscapes of the Sacred, 190-1.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid, 191.

Participatory, Poetic Landscapes

HUMANISTIC, EXISTENTIAL and postmodern geographers, who have questioned viewing the world through an objectivist epistemology, or theory of meaning – are supported by some Western philosophers, biologists, neurophysiologists, environmentalists; and East Asian philosophy, particularly Taoism and Buddhism. Here very briefly, are the arguments of some others who advocate meaning or an epistemology based on an active and relational process of perception and cognition.

OBJECTIVISM AS A ‘GODS-EYE-VIEW’ of reality independent of human understanding is opposed by philosophers Mark Johnson and Hilary Putnam. According to the Objectivist orientation, which is rooted deeply in the Western philosophical and cultural tradition, the world consists of objects that have properties which stand in relationships independent of human understanding. Human beings can have no significant bearing on the nature of meaning and rationality.[i] Johnson, like Putnam, argues for realism based on our mediated understanding of our experience. They argue that experience is an “organism-environment interaction”. The organism and its environment are not independent and unrelated entities.[ii] Johnson concludes that objectivity “does not require taking up God’s perspective, which is impossible; rather, it requires taking up appropriately shared human perspectives that are tied to reality through our embodied imaginative understanding”.[iii]

Biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela reach very similar conclusions to Mark Johnson’s “embodied understanding” by “offering a scientific study of cognition as a biological phenomenon” wherein “the extremes of representationalism (objectivism) and solipsism (idealism)” are eschewed.[iv] The act of cognition does not simply mirror an objective reality “out there” – rather it is rooted in our biological structure and is an active process in which we actually create our world of experience through the process of living itself. We are “continuously immersed in a network of interactions, the results of which depend on history”.[v]

Steve Odin observes that “the primacy accorded to relational ‘field’ over that of the ‘substantial objects’ implicit in the ecological world view is also at the heart of the organismic paradigm of nature in East Asian philosophy, especially Taoism and Buddhism”.[vi]

Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), environmentalist, scientist, ecologist, forester and writer of the classic ‘A Sand Country Almanac’ (1949) is widely regarded as establishing environmental ethics as a distinct branch of philosophy. His ethics arise from a “metaphysical presupposition that things in nature are not separate, independent, or substantial objects, but relational fields… the land is a single living organism wherein each part affects every other part”.[vii]

J. Baird Callicott an American philosopher of environment and ethics, follows the insights of Leopold and argues that “object-ontology is inappropriate to an ecological description of the natural environment. Living natural objects should be regarded as ontologically subordinate to “events” and/or “flow patterns” and/or “field patterns”.[viii]

THE RELATIONAL FIELD idea of environment or landscape, has been promoted by ecologists and some significant philosophers, East and West. In the Western philosophic tradition, English philosopher and mathematician, Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) was seminal with this view.

Modernism and hence objectivism was systematically challenged by Alfred North Whitehead. Regarded as one of the earliest postmodernists, Whitehead whose contribution to philosophy, mathematics and logic as well as metaphysics is “considered by many to be one of the great intellectual achievements of all time”[ix] is known in particular for his relational field view of reality. A.N. Whitehead gave the field concept of nature implied by ecology its fullest systematic expression in his process metaphysics and philosophy of organism.

As Odin points out, Whitehead “elaborates a panpsychic vision of nature as a creative and aesthetic continuum of living field events arising through their causal relations to every other event in the continuum”.[x] Odin argues that nature, in terms of the Gaia hypothesis, is “a synergistic ecosystem of symbiotic relationships” and this is the relational view of reality of many ecologists as well as much philosophy of East Asia based on Taoism and Buddhism.[xi]

Polish philosopher Henryk Skolimowski is another one who argues for a new epistemology based on a “participatory concept of truth” wherein ‘objectivity’ “has become a myth which is pernicious and which we need to transcend”.[xii] He holds that there is “a close and inevitable relationship between the view of the cosmos of a given people (cosmology) and the system of knowledge of a given people (epistemology). One recapitulates the other, and is in the image of the other. Thus the outer walls of the cosmos are the inner walls of the mind.”[xiii] In other words, there is a close and inevitable relationship between the landscape ‘focus of perception’ of a given people and the system of meaning or knowledge (epistemology) of a given people.

For example, Lopez argues that the rational, scientific approach to land loses something profound; rather the land is like poetry. For instance:

“A Lakota woman named Elaine Jahner once wrote that what lies at the heart of the religion of hunting peoples is the notion that a spiritual landscape exists within the physical landscape. To put it another way, occasionally one sees something fleeting in the land, a moment when line, color, and movement intensify and something sacred is revealed, leading one to believe that there is another realm of reality corresponding to the physical one but different.

In the face of a rational, scientific approach to the land, which is more widely sanctioned, esoteric insights and speculations are frequently overshadowed, and what is lost is profound. The land is like poetry: it is inexplicably coherent, it is transcendent in its meaning, and it has the power to elevate a consideration of human life.”[xiv]

[i] Mark Johnson, The Body in the Mind – The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination and Reason (University of Chicago Press, 1987), x.

[ii] Ibid, 207.

[iii] Ibid, 212.

[iv] Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco J. Varela, The Tree of Knowledge – The Biological Roots of Human Understanding (New Science Library, Shambhala Publications, Inc. 1987), 214.

[v] Ibid, 241.

[vi] Steve Odin, ‘The Japanese Concept of Nature in Relation to the Environmental Ethics and Conservation Aesthetics of Aldo Leopold’, Environmental Ethics, v.13, no. 4 (1991), 350.

[vii] Ibid, 346; see also Aldo Leopold, A Sand Country Almanac: With Essays on Conservation from Round River (N.Y: Ballantine Books, 1966).

[viii] J. Baird Callicott and Roger T. Ames (eds.) Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought – Essays in Environmental Philosophy (State University of New York, 1989), 58.

[ix] Ted Honderich (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, (Oxford University Press, 1995), 909-910.

[x] Steve Odin, ‘The Japanese Concept of Nature in Relation to the Environmental Ethics and Conservation Aesthetics of Aldo Leopold’, 350.

[xi] Ibid, 360.

[xii] Henryk Skolimowski, The Participatory Mind – A New Theory of Knowledge and of the Universe (Arkana, Penguin Group, 1994), xviii-xix.

[xiii] Ibid, xvii.

[xiv] Lopez (1998) Arctic Dreams, 274.

The Primal, Sacred ‘Nature/Earth Landscape’

MIRCEA ELIADE, the historian of religion, once noted that:

“It was the prophets, the apostles, and their successors the missionaries who convinced the western world that a rock (which certain people have considered to be sacred) was only a rock, that the planets and stars were only cosmic objects – that is to say, that they were not (and could not be) either gods or angels or demons.”[i]

Earth worship persisted up to about 500 CE in Europe and is thought to have originated in Mesopotamia and spread throughout the Near and Middle East, Europe, Africa and Asia. Earth worship corresponds to animism – the belief that everything is endowed with soul/spirit. Indeed, the concept of animism “extended to plants and animals because of the spiritual power (mana) they were perceived to have as children of the Earth Mother”.[ii]

Earth worship persists today among certain ‘native’ and aboriginal tribes who choose to retain their primal knowledge and traditions, with a relationship of kinship between human beings and all of creation – vegetation, animals, the elements and other planets.[iii] It is an holistic approach to life, with strong emphasis on the I-Thou relationship.[iv]

The traditional Maori landscape exemplifies the primal and sacred Nature/Earth Landscape. In the Maori cosmology all living things are descendents of Rangi (the Sky Father) and Papa (the Earth Mother) and thus are related. The ancient Maori regard for their land was such that “at times it seems doubtful whether it is the tribe who owns the mountain or river or whether the latter own the tribe”.[v]

For traditional Maori, separation from one’s landscape was a spiritual as well as a physical dislocation. The alienation of Maori land to Europeans was sometimes referred to as the death of the land.[vi] The intense and mysterious ties with the land were such that before being executed one Maori prisoner asked his captors to allow him to view his tribal territory once more and drink from his river.[vii]

The Nature/Earth Landscape ‘focus of perception’ was to change with the advent first of Judaism and then Christianity, where a monotheistic patriarchal God held dominion over nature and conferred human dominion over nature to ‘the chosen’ and ‘the righteous’. With the domination by missionary Christianity over primal peoples and their spirituality, the power balance shifted and the primal, sacred Nature/Earth Landscape was challenged and superseded by a new revelatory Anthropocentric Landscape.

Geographer of religion Erich Isaac (1960) drew the landscape distinction between primal “magical-cosmic religions” where “everything is potentially sacred, but only in a few chosen places is the potential realised” on the one hand, and the “great religions of revelation” where God is “in no way confined by space” and the divine is removed from the landscape, on the other.[viii]

For Isaac, religions of revelation “contrast with the magical-cosmic religions in that the divine is outside of nature and man, and no site is intrinsically holier than any other. Sites are hallowed by God’s choice of them at a particular historical moment. The tendency of religions of revelation is thus to remove the divine from the landscape”.[ix]

Paradoxically, “while God is conceived as in no way confined by space”, God is at the same time “confined in so far as He (sic) is regarded as peculiarly attached to certain specific localities” or holy sites.[x]

The man-made city in monotheistic religions came to symbolize the heavenly order. As Yi-Fu Tuan points out “The city symbolized heavenly order. Within its walls one found just rules and discriminations; beyond them lay chaos and arbitrariness. The most heart-felt eschatological longings drew on city imagery in utterance”.[xi] This reinforced the alienation felt for the Nature/Earth Landscape outside the city walls.

Jerusalem was the Holy City – the prime City of God. According to the Genesis myth of creation, “the earth was without form and void, darkness hovered over the face of the abyss and a mighty wind swept over the face of the waters” although, in the end, there is perfect order.

“St. John saw a new heaven and a new earth on which there no longer existed any sea or darkness for the glory of God gave light. In the beginning was confusion. In the end St. John beheld the holy city of Jerusalem, which had the crystalline structure and radiance of some priceless jewel (Revelation xxi).”[xii]

While God may be found in his Holy City Jerusalem, on the other hand it is argued by Belden C. Lane that for the Judeo-Christian tradition, a “God made proximate in place may be no God at all”.[xiii] The call to abandon the security of place is a persistent theme throughout Western religious thought. Samuel Terrien maintains that the theme of God’s elusive presence forms the heart and soul of biblical theology in both the Old and New Testaments.[xiv]

The Father-God is distanced from the Nature/Earth Landscape and in consequence it is de-sacralised. God is above nature. As Belden C. Lane points out, the German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) “spoke of this insistent rejection of pagan animism to have resulted in a ‘disenchantment’ of the world within the western mind, a freeing of nature from its intense religious associations”.[xv]

The God of the Old Testament, while distanced from nature, nevertheless establishes dominance over nature and confers the privilege of domination to the ‘chosen’ – the righteous and the faithful. God has the power to use nature to punish transgressors with natural disasters.

Thus geographer Jeanne Kay, writing in The Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 1989, maintains that human dominion over nature is inherent in the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament within the Christian Bible):

“the Bible’s most persistent environmental message is that God confers human dominion over nature to righteous or faithful people, whereas God punishes transgressors with natural disasters… The themes of a beneficent environment as God’s rewards for good human behavior and a deteriorating environment as God’s punishment for evil resound throughout the Bible and were favorite themes of the prophets.”[xvi]

Christianity had followed in the Hebraic tradition of domination over nature. Yi-Fu Tuan points out that for early Christianity an express purpose was to “loosen man’s earthly bonds so that he might more easily enter the heavenly kingdom”.[xvii]

A CHANGE IN LANDSCAPE FOCUS AND IMAGINATION occurred, from one of perceiving the sacred in nature and the earth to an anthropocentric focus of perceiving the sacred to be in a heavenly ‘other world’ and in man’s soul – as distinct from his ‘profane’ physicality which linked him with other animals and the natural world .

This is well illustrated in the recounted experience of Petrarch, the fourteenth-century Renaissance humanist, poet and scholar. Taking a day off from his work on letters Petrarch decided to climb Mount Ventoux in southern France. From the summit of some 6,000 feet he took delight in the views of the distant chateau country of Avignon and the feeling of being “free and alone, among the mountains and forests”.[xviii] But as he stood in wonder he felt the urge to open Augustine’s Confessions, which he had brought along in his pocket, and there he read to his chagrin the Bishop of Hippo’s accusing words: “Men go gape at mountain peaks, at the boundless tides of the sea, the broad sweep of rivers, the encircling ocean, and the motions of the stars: And yet they leave themselves unnoticed; they do not marvel at themselves”.[xix] Petrarch later wrote that “I was abashed and I closed the book, angry with myself that I should still be admiring earthly things who might long ago have learned…that nothing is wonderful but the soul”.[xx] He left the mountain hurriedly, reflecting on how easily the world’s beauty can divert men and women from their proper concerns.

[i] Wendell, C, Bean & William G. Doty (eds.), Myths, Rites, Symbols: A Mircea Eliade Reader (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), I, 128.

[ii] Andree Collard and Joyce Contrucci, Man’s Violence Against Animals and the Earth (Indiana University Press, 1989), 8.

[iii] Ibid, 7.

[iv] H. and H.A. Frankfort, John A. Wilson, Thorkild Jacobsen and William A. Irwin, The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man – An Essay on Speculative Thought in the Ancient Near East (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946), 4-7.

[v] C.M.G. Gudgeon, ‘Mana Tangata’. The Journal of Polynesian Society, v.14, no.54 (1905), 57. Cf. Hong-Key Yoon, Maori Mind, Maori Land, Eratosthene Interdisciplinary Series (Bern & New York: Peter Lang, 1986), 58.

[vi] William Martin, The Taranaki Question (London: W.H. Dalton, 1961), 39. Cf. Hong-Key Yoon(1986) Maori Mind, Maori Land, 57 & 59.

[vii] Elsdon Best, The Maori (Polynesian Society, Wellington (1941 [1924]) vol.1), 397.

[viii] Erich Isaac, ‘Religion, Landscape and Space’, Landscape v.9, no.2 (Winter, 1959-60), 14-15.

[ix] Ibid, 16-17.

[x] Ibid, 17.

[xi] Yi-Fu Tuan, ‘Sacred Space: Explorations of an Idea’, in: K. Butzner (ed.), Dimensions of Human Geography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 86.

[xii] Ibid, 86.

[xiii] Belden C. Lane, Landscapes of the Sacred – Geography and Narrative in American Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1988), 189.

[xiv] Samuel Terrien, The Elusive Presence: The Heart of Biblical Theology (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978).

[xv] Lane (1988) Landscapes of the Sacred, 18.

[xvi] Jeanne Kay, ‘Human Dominion over Nature in the Hebrew Bible’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, v. 79 (1989), 214ff.

[xvii] Yi-Fu Tuan, ‘Geopiety’, 26.

[xviii] Lane (1988) Landscapes of the Sacred, 187.

[xix] Ibid.,187- 188. Cf. Confessions of St. Augustine, X, viii, 5.

[xx] Ibid, 187-188.

Trickster Hero

THE HERO AND EGO are more developed in the Trickster than in the Anthropocentric Landscape of the Heavenly God-Father Archetype.

While the hero myths vary enormously in detail, structurally they are very similar. There is a universal pattern even although the myths were developed by groups or individuals without direct cultural contact.

The special function of the hero myth is the development of the individual’s ego consciousness and his exploration and coming to awareness of his own strengths and weaknesses, which equips him for later challenges of life.[i] Joseph L. Henderson argues:

“Over and over again one hears a tale describing a hero’s miraculous but humble birth, his early proof of superhuman strength, his rapid rise to prominence or power, his triumphant struggle with the forces of evil, his fallibility to the sin of pride (hybris), and his fall through betrayal or a “heroic” sacrifice that ends in his death.” [ii]

Erich Neumann states “The hero is always a light-bringer and emissary of light … The hero’s victory brings with it a new spiritual status, a new knowledge, and an alteration of consciousness”: the heroic age is characterised as the “predominance of individual personality”.[iii] All are characteristics of the Trickster Hero.

The heroic culminates in the Technological/Materialist Landscape in the development of science and the world as object:[iv]

“The activity of masculine consciousness is heroic in so far as it voluntarily takes upon itself the archetypal struggle with the dragon of the unconscious and carries it to successful conclusion… The correlation of consciousness with masculinity culminates in the development of science, as an attempt by the masculine spirit to emancipate itself from the power of the unconscious. Wherever science appears it breaks up the original character of the world, which was filled with unconscious projections. Thus, stripped of projection, the world becomes objective, a scientific construction of the mind.” [v]

THE TRICKSTER HERO PITS HIMSELF AGAINST THE OLD GOD. Neumann maintains that in the modern world the disintegration of the old system of values is in full swing.[vi] In the modern world the hero with his human ego pits himself against the old deity. Thus:

“the hero ceases to be instrument of the gods and begins to play his own independent part as a human being; and when he finally becomes, in modern man a battleground for suprapersonal forces, where the human ego pits itself against the deity. As breaker of the old law, man becomes the opponent of the old system and the bringer of the new, which he confers upon mankind against the will of the old deity.” [vii]

[i] Carl Jung (ed.), Man and His Symbols (London: Picador, Pan Books, 1978).

[ii] Joseph L. Henderson, ‘Ancient Myths and Modern Man’ in: Carl Jung (ed.), Man and His Symbols, 101.

[iii] Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness (New York: Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series XLII, 1973), 160-161.

[iv] Ibid, 340-341.

[v] Ibid, 340-341.

[vi] Ibid, 390.

[vii] Ibid, 177.

Trickster

“Technology is neither devil nor an angel. But neither is it simply a “tool” a neutral extension of some rock-solid human nature. Technology is a trickster…

[The Trickster] Hermes became agoraios, “he of the agora,” the patron saint of merchants, middlemen, and the service industry, while the god’s epithet “tricky” came to mean “good for securing profit”. “
– Erik Davis

“Freely developing technology has always been an historical wild card and a potentially destabilizing element. Free markets and technologies do not necessarily produce a stable, predictable social order, but they do promote individual liberty.”
– Frederich R. Lynch

“Trickster God is Universal”

THE TRICKSTER ARCHETYPE – or Trickster God, otherwise known in the West as the Greek God Hermes – is universal. Trickster is found in the mythologies of many peoples. Like Hecate – whose cult probably spread from Anatolia into Greece and who is associated with Hermes – Trickster is the quintessential master of boundaries and transitions. He brings both good luck and bad, both profit and loss. He is the patron of both travellers and thieves. Like Hecate, Trickster is the guide of souls to the underworld and the messenger of the gods. He surprises mundane reality with the unexpected and miraculous. In traditional primal cultures, Trickster emerges under the dominance of the Earth Mother.[i] Combs and Holland point out:

“The trickster god is universal. He is known to the Native American peoples as Ictinike, Coyote, Rabbit and others; he is Maui to the Polynesian Islanders; Loki to the old Germanic tribes of Europe; and Krishna in the sacred mythology of India. Best known to most of us in the West is the Greek god Hermes, who represents the most comprehensive and sophisticated manifestation of the Trickster.” [ii]

However, the Trickster God is not confined just to traditional primal cultures – today he is well and truly at home in the Technological/Materialist Landscape.

Trickster is at Home Today

AS JUNG STATES, the Trickster appears par excellence in modern man:

“He is a forerunner of the saviour, and like him, God, man, and animal at once. He is both subhuman and superhuman, a bestial and divine being whose chief and most alarming characteristic is his unconscious.” [iii]

While Hermes the Greek God is not reducible to the Trickster; in the West, the Trickster is frequently associated with Hermes – for example ‘Trickster Hermes’ and ‘Hermes the Trickster’. Combs and Holland argue that the Trickster God is universal:

“Best known to us in the West is the Greek God Hermes, who represents the most comprehensive and sophisticated manifestation of the Trickster.” [iv]

The Trickster, like Hermes and Hecate, is also specifically associated with liminality[v] – thresholds, or the point beyond which a sensation becomes too faint to be experienced.

Above all the Trickster is fun. In the Technological/Materialist Landscape we are all imbued with the Trickster and ‘his’ exploits – both angelic and devilish. We partake in his exuberance, ambitions, boundary exploration, trickery, games, sleights-of-hand, personas, commercial success, communications expertise, technological genius, liminality and in his shadow-side – if not in actuality then in fantasy. We both applaud him and are appalled by him. We live vicariously through the Trickster and his shadow via entertainment – films, video games and the mass communications of television, internet, texting, smart phones, magazines and books.

Today we are imbued with the Trickster. For those whose ‘focus of perception’ is primarily the Technological/Materialist Landscape, the symbolic correspondence between the individual’s inner life and the outer world has many of the characteristics inherent in the Trickster Archetype. When “an individual’s inner life corresponds in a symbolic way to the outer objective world, the two are connected by meaning”.[vi] In other words the inner life connected by symbolic meaning to the outer world is an indication of the governance of an archetype. As Combes and Holland state:

“The themes carried by archetypes are universal: they are neither wholly internal nor wholly external but are woven into the deepest fabric of the cosmos. This notion is supported by Jung’s idea that archetypes have their origins in the unus mundus, or “one world”, which is at the foundation of the psyche and the objective, physical world. Bohm’s concept of the holographic universe offers similar possibilities. It follows, then, that myths as expressions of archetypes might be expected to portray certain aspects of the object world as well as depicting psychological realities. Indeed many of the Greek Gods represent aspects of reality that overarch both the inner worlds of human experience and the external worlds of nature and society.” [vii]


[i] See for example Paul Radin, The Trickster – A Study in American Indian Mythology, with commentaries by Karl Kerenyi and C.G. Jung (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1956).

[ii] Alan Combs and Mark Holland, Synchronicity – Science, Myth and the Trickster (New York: Paragon House, 1990), 82.

[iii] C.G. Jung, Four Archetypes (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980),142-3. (Note: The internet throws up almost 13,000 associations between Trickster and Hermes).

[iv] Allan Combs and Mark Holland, Synchronicity – Science, Myth and the Trickster (New York: Paragon House, 1990), 82.

[v] George P. Hansen, The Trickster and the Paranormal (Philadelphia: Xlibris Corporation, 2001).

[vi] Allan Combs and Mark Holland, Synchronicity – Science, Myth and the Trickster (New York: Paragon House, 1990), 97.

[vii] Ibid, 79.

Four Imaginal-Visionary Landscapes and Historical Changes

POETS, MYSTICS, DEEP ECOLOGISTS, mythologists and religious savants have always shared and cherished the role of imagination within landscape. For children, mystics and primal peoples, the immersion of imagination in the sacred Nature/Earth Landscape can also be an existential way of being.

Paradoxically, it would seem that spiritual and imaginal-visionary landscapes are simultaneously both timeless and have undergone historical change. There is a timelessness or historical transcendence in our understanding of and our potentiality to participate in different spiritual imaginal-visionary landscapes which could be called archetypal. This archetypal aspect of landscape, which is historically transcendent or centred in the individual’s psyche, will be considered in the next chapter.

At the collective level, particularly in the West, there have been discernable historical changes in spiritual imaginal-visionary landscapes. The collective historical change in sacred landscape imagination has been noted by a number of geographers and cultural historians.[i]

IN THE WEST the progressive delineation of four major historical changes in imaginal-visionary landscapes is proposed, namely: from (1) the primal, sacred Nature/Earth Landscape; to (2) the Judaic-Christian Anthropocentric Landscape; to (3) the modernist ‘secular’ Technological/Materialist Landscape; then to (4) the Postmodern Ecological Landscape and a consideration of an Inner Landscape.

With the Postmodern Ecological Landscape we seem to have created a full circle return to the sacred Nature/Earth Landscape imagination and vision. However, it is a self-conscious return and it often comes with an awareness of the role of the imagination and the inner mind (or psyche/soul) in creating and choosing landscape. We can by virtue of will change the way we imagine and visualise the landscape and hence our ‘focus of perception’.

THE FOLLOWING POINTS can be made with regard to the four spiritual imaginal-visionary landscapes as noted above: (1) Each of these landscapes is a major ‘focus of perception’ – hence a major focus in seeing, feeling, being and relating. These landscapes are not necessarily a totality (2) They are inherent to Western culture and history but there may be other landscapes and good arguments for other landscapes. (3) The four landscapes are not mutually exclusive.

While each of the landscapes has been predominant at particular times in Western history, at the individual level they are not mutually exclusive. An example of this is that there can be no Nature/Earth Landscape without an Anthropocentric Landscape for humans at least. This is because people are brought up as social animals and cannot survive apart from other people from birth. The Nature/Earth Landscape even for primal peoples and cultures will always be peopled and infused with an anthropocentric culture.[ii]


[i] See Lynn White Jr., ‘The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis’, Science, 155, March (1967), no. 3767, pp. 1203-1207; Yi-Fu Tuan, ‘Geopiety: A Theme in Man’s Attachment to Nature and Place’ in: David Lowenthal and Martin J. Bowden, (eds.), Geographies of the Mind: Essays in Historical Geography in Honor of John Kirkland Wright (N.Y: Oxford University Press, 1976), 13-14; Yi-Fu Tuan, ‘Sacred Space: Explorations of an Idea’ in: K. Butzer (ed.), Dimensions of Human Geography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 87-100; Belden C. Lane, Landscapes of the Sacred — Geography and Narrative in American Spirituality (New York/Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1988); Peter Bishop, The Myth of Shangri-La – Tibet, Travel Writing and the Western Creation of Sacred Landscape (University of California Press, 1989): William Irwin Thompson, Imaginary Landscape: Making Worlds of Myth and Science (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1989).

[ii] See James G. Cowan, ‘Aboriginal Solitude’, Parabola Magazine, vol.17, no. 1 (1992), 62-67.